Apple’s next big thing might be healthcare

By 2030, intelligent wireless body monitoring could lead to pervasive and personalized healthcare. Deeper and smarter insights into the body means that devices can serve as a preventive health tool.

Apple, digital health, Health, Watch, healthcare, insurance

Apple’s next big push may be around health insurance, according to Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight. I think his idea makes sense, given all the work Apple already does in the space  — and it echoes thoughts we’ve heard before.

The future takes time to bake

Wood’s team of analysts publish annual predictions, several of which relate to what Apple already does. But it’s Woods' thoughts on health that really resonated with me this year: “By 2030, intelligent wireless body monitoring leads to pervasive and personalized healthcare,” he wrote. “Deeper and smarter insights into the body means that devices can serve as a preventive health tool, flagging up any deviations from the user’s norm, detecting subtle changes and providing lifestyle advice.”

Apple has this space covered. The iPhone, Apple Watch, Health, Activity, and Fitness+ cover the gamut of the human condition. At some level, these existing solutions already turn your habits into actionable data.

What you do, how you do it, when, how often and how to do what you do better and more frequently are all reprised within these systems. The company already has sensors, and is building more, and provides research apps and has already assembled extensive data for numerous situations. It already works with existing health insurance providers to combine its data with their services.

In this part of the big picture, what Wood thinks makes total sense. A lot of this is already happening.

“Apple Watch remains a great way for health conscious customers to track their overall wellness and fitness,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Delivery, data, and results

Apple’s solutions are becoming more widely used across the health sector. You’ll find iPads in patient rooms and in the operating theater. You have the Medications app to help maintain diligent care, and you have Activity, Fitness, and Health apps to provide the kind of valuable insight everybody needs into self-care. You even have Medical ID for emergencies.

You have all of this and more.

With so much data already being created, the company has built a platform from which it can build a connected health ecosystem. It’s completely plausible to imagine a doctor in every Apple Store handling walk-in appointments, supplemented by an online service offering initial consultation and advice.

The work those doctors do would be rendered considerably easier with the addition of the health stats already gathered by the iPhone, Health app, and Apple Watch. In between appointments, a little automation around monitoring and analysis of patient-gathered data should help flag post-care self-treatment and medication errors. Such automation should help deliver better recovery results.

When you travel, you’ll be covered by an international brand with an international presence in most nations. Where such presence does not exist, the company’s other products (such as Apple Pay) enable its customers to access local care at local prices, supported by the credit worthiness of a brand which probably has a better credit rating than the post-Brexit UK under its Truss government.

How it might work

Apple’s strength here is really evidenced around the health-related data its systems already collect. That information, intended to empower end users with insights into their own health and habits, can (once explicit permission is granted by the user) also inform medical professionals about what a patient’s condition might be and which needs are left unmet. The capacity for remote monitoring of patients should empower them with more autonomy, which should help trim treatment costs while also delivering at least as good results.

The company continues to associate its Apple Watch with health and fitness. It makes sense to do so, as it gives the device a clear purpose that does seem to resonate with consumers.

Beyond this, it also provides health services with just enough insight into current health trends to see that possession of a smart fitness tracker has an active and positive impact on people’s self-care.

This is a health promoting act, as it means those who use these devices are in general healthier than those who don’t and are far more likely to at least think about the consequences of what they do on their physical and mental wellbeing. Given that prevention is always better than cure and that so many of the biggest health impacts — diabetes, heart, obesity — can be mitigated against by healthier habits, it makes sense to associate this data and these devices with health insurance.

Apple’s access to financial products (Apple Pay, Apple Card, Apple Savings, Apple Cash) means the company can help promote Apple Health users with discounted costs and a highly flexible set of benefits. Imagine if meeting your fitness goals gave you free access to Apple Music, or $10 you could spend as you wish.

Apple might even consider adding a Single App mode to Apple Watch, so patients suffering from some complex conditions will always be gathering and sharing important health data when undergoing remote post treatment care.

That kind of initiative would reduce the overall cost of health service provision while maintaining highly effective levels of care.

Better health at lower cost?

That’s the nub of why Apple may be able to deliver systems of this kind. Those who use an Apple Watch are already more likely to live slightly more healthy lives. That’s great on an individual basis, but promises even bigger benefits en masse. That patient data can be shared with caregivers opens opportunities for remote delivery of personalized self-care plans, while swift identification of symptoms when they emerge promotes an environment for early treatment of conditions before they become severe.

The effect?

Better general health, more effective treatment, and the capacity to deliver all this at relatively lower cost than possible before.

Early interventions don’t just save lives, they save money in health and recovery costs. Combined with an international network of stores from which care can be delivered, it’s surely a matter of “when," not “if” the company plans to introduce Apple Health.

I think CCS Insight has got this one more right than it has wrong. While Apple may instead choose to intensify its growing number of partnerships with existing health insurance entities to deliver the same result, I think it already believes it can do a better job alone.

I’ll be interested to learn what Dr. Sumbul Desai, Apple vice president for health, has to say on Apple’s approach to digital health during her keynote speech at Web Summit 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal next month.

“In this session, Sumbul describes how Apple is utilizing the power of tech to revolutionize public health in the 21st century, with innovations in wearables, Apple Watch, iPhone, and iOS,” the event description says.

I don't expect too much more than what Apple has already said just yet. But it is difficult to ignore the direction of travel.

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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